The row over Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman’s itinerary during her visit to flood-hit Kodagu district persisted on Saturday, with a state minister being faulted over his conduct and the Karnataka government hitting back, asserting that it was not inferior to the Centre.
Sitharaman and Karnataka Minister Sa Ra Mahesh were locked in an exchange of words over her itinerary during her visit to Kodagu district on Friday in full view of officials and the media at the district commissioner’s office.
In a clarification issued on Saturday, a defence public relations office statement, claimed that Mahesh, who is the district in charge minister, had made certain ‘personal’ remarks against Sitharaman which had also lowered the dignity of Rajya Sabha and showed “utter lack of regard” and knowledge about the Indian polity.
It said the remarks made against Sitharaman were also in “bad taste,” which do not merit a response.
Hitting back at the Defence minister, Karnataka Deputy Chief Minister G Parameshwara said state governments derive their powers from the Constitution, not from the Centre.
“The Constitution has distributed powers among the Centre and states to ensure an equitable partnership between both. We are not inferior to the Centre. We are partners @nsitharamanMadam,” he said in his tweet, before the clarification.
“Madam @nsitharaman, our ministers have stayed back in Kodagu for weeks to oversee relief operations along with district administration. You should extend to them the same respect that they extend for the help from your end. It was disappointing to see you lash out at my colleague,” he said.
There were frayed tempers over itinerary at the meeting at Madikeri when Sitharaman was interacting with a group of affected people of Kodagu district, where torrential rains had left a huge trail of destruction and claimed at least 17 lives.
Sitharaman had told Mahesh that she was only going by the minute-by-minute programme drawn up for her visit and she had been following the minister in-charge and the itinerary.
“I follow the minister in charge. Central minister follows the minister in charge here. Unbelievable! You have a list of minute-to-minute for me to follow...I am doing as per your schedule,” she had said.
Later, Mahesh had told a TV channel, “She would have known the pain had she contested election by standing with the electorate, going to every house, meeting voters and asked their problems. She has been elected to Rajya Sabha from
In the clarification, the Defence PRO said the tour programme of Sitharaman was finalised by the district administration of Kodagu in consultation with the public representatives, which was approved and circulated to all concerned two days prior to her arrival.
Subsequently, on the request of the district administration, an interaction with the army veterans was added to the schedule, it said.
It said after the completion of the field visits, Sitharaman was interacting with ex-servicemen who had been adversely affected by the floods, when the district in-charge minister objected and insisted that meeting with the officials be conducted first.
The statement said welfare of ex-servicemen was an essential part of the ministry of defence and the same was scheduled in the programme.
However, the state minister insisted that she immediately stop the interaction and proceed to the meeting with the officials.
It said in order to avoid the situation from “deteriorating”, Sitharaman immediately halted the meeting and proceeded to the venue of the meeting with the officials.
The defence minister also heard the grievances of the waiting ex-servicemen.
In spite of district administration finalising the programme and the defence minister following it in its entirety, “it is unfortunate that the minister behaved the way he did. Subsequently, the personal remarks made against the RM were also in bad taste, which do not merit a response”.
The statement said there had been gross misrepresentation with regard to the use of the term ‘parivar’ by the defence minister during the interaction.
“One of the four departments of the ministry of defence is the department of ex-servicemen welfare and in that context it was stated that all ex-servicemen are part of the MoD ‘parivar’. Any other inference is misconstrued and uncalled for,” it added.